So, your students are all about the growth mindset. They’ve played your improv games. They can zip, zap, zop for days. They are fearless, mistake-making machines, and now they are talking up a storm.
“HELLO, my name is DAVID, what’s your name?”
“My name is Raul. What do you do at the weekend?”
“I go to my village.”
Some of you are thinking, “‘At the weekend?’ Doesn’t he mean ‘On the…’” Well, paisanos, get ready to learn British English, because that’s what all of your students’ books will have in them.
This brings me to my first point about creating a positive learning community:
1. Always assume positive intent.
As an auxiliar, your school year will be filled with malentendidos, odd situations, examples of times when students and your fellow teachers made mistakes in what they said, what they did, etc. Your year in general will look like this, too: you’ll go into a store and try to buy something and won’t be understood, you’ll be fervently trying to explain how “wander,” “stagger,” and “stumble” don’t mean the same thing in Spanish for 10 minutes, then realize how unimportant the conversation is and laugh with a friend. You will also find many people who do not speak English. Assume positive intent on the other person’s part. For example:
If you tell a teacher after class “I notice you said ‘at the weekend.’ I think I would say ‘On the weekend.’” The teacher can then tell you you’re both right, it’s a British/American difference. Assume the teacher knows that he is talking about. And clarify with him if/how he would like you to ask him questions about things he says or ask clarifying questions about American/British English
If you say to a student “I notice you don’t have your English book with you,” the student can explain why. Yes, it might be the 10th time the student has not brought her book to class. Yes, it might be time to do something else about it. But in the moment, give her the benefit of the doubt, and don’t call her out in front of the class. Assume something out of control made it so she couldn’t have her book with her.
If you’re playing a game in class where students are moving around the room, and a student is off in the corner texting and crying, check-in with her 1-1 when possible and say “I notice you had your phone out. I haven’t seen you with your phone out before. What’s up?” Assume there is a reason for her behavior and check-in with her.
2. Purposefully Use Spaces
How else can we create a positive learning community? One way is by varying how we meet based on what we want to accomplish. Think about any organization, from Apple to your college. They all have different ways of coming together based on what they want to do. When your professor wanted to teach class, she would meet you in a lecture hall. Depending on what type of school you attended, there were probably 100-300 seats facing her. She had a podium where she could plug in her computer. She could use the projector or write on a whiteboard or chalkboard. You took notes on a smaller desk, most likely made for right-handed students. But, when she wanted to talk with you 1-1, she would meet you in a smaller, more comfortable office.
Just like these learning spaces, your classroom can be converted into many different set-ups depending on what activities best suit the learning goals planned for that day. Let’s see a few examples:
There are all sorts of studies surrounding the “best” ways to organize people for productivity or learning. Here are a few that I highly recommend practicing with your students. Yes, I said “practice”. Do a good example and a bad example. Call them out: “________ position.” Then have students clap twice and move to those seats. Time the class, then say that students at your last school could do it in 2.3 seconds instead of the 8.43 seconds it took them.
This arrangement is perfect for explaining directions for an activity. Students don’t need to take notes-- you just need to disseminate information for 5-ish minutes. Think kindergarten teacher reading a story to the class.
This is perfect for group conversations. Students turn THEIR ENTIRE DESKS so they are facing each other. Notice that I write entire desks--not heads. There will be grumbling. They will complain, “But why???” Don’t give in. Teach them that being polite when talking to others means facing them with their whole body. Have two students act it out at the front of the room and ask which one is more respectful: the conversation with one person turning their head all the way around to talk with the other, or the conversation where the people are facing each other?
This is ideal for games. Push all the chairs to the side of the room, so there’s plenty of room to walk around and students aren’t tripping all over the place. (Pro tip: leave 3 min at the end of class to put the seats back how they were so the next teacher doesn’t hate you.)
This one is great for Socratic seminars and whole class discussions. Ideally, put all the desks into a big circle. If this does not work in your room, you might need to move all of the desks out of the way and just sit in a circle on the floor.
Rows and columns--this is probably how your desks are already set up
Partners facing each other, but have both of them move to their left a little so they aren’t head-on. This way they can be working on computers but still looking at each other (or be completing a worksheet but be closer.
The U set-up
This is a great seating arrangement for increasing conversation because students can see each other. For me, permanently changing my seating arrangement to this was one of the biggest game-changers in my career. It was a reminder to both my students and myself that the point of the class was to have them speak with each other and to have me be “the guide on the side”, not the “sage on the stage”. Another pro tip: your mileage may vary with this one. When in doubt, start with normal, traditional seating first because it helps with learning classroom management.
If you are having students play a loud game or want to go on a field trip (maybe going to Mercadona and shopping or doing a scavenger hunt), take your class outside. Obviously approve this with the main teacher first, but stuff like this will make your class memorable, unique and interesting for students.
How else might you foster a positive learning community aside from changing the physical space? One extremely easy method that most beginning teachers overlook is giving students jobs.
3. Give Students Jobs
Jobs? What are you talking about? Jobs = no bueno.
Well, actually, jobs = sí bueno. Jobs = responsibility. Responsibility = a sense of belonging. And if I belong in English class, I am much more willing to buy in.
So, what types of jobs can your students have, and which students should get them?
You can make up as many jobs as you want/need. I only have a few. I think it works best with elementary and middle school, but there are high school students who happily take them as well. I typically assign them to students with behavioral problems (especially those who I know do not like the subject or who may have had a bad experience with a previous teacher) specifically so that I get more face time with them, they know I am relying on them, and hopefully they get more positive attention.
I recommend only rotating/changing who does the jobs once a month rather than each day or week. This way you don’t need to re-explain what each job entails. For example:
passes out papers, handouts, quizzes, tests, etc.
tells class when to start quizzes, tests, activities and tells me when we have worked on something for X minutes
collects assignments and puts all face up, in alphabetical order. Pro tip: number your students at the beginning of the year and tell them to write this number next to their name. This makes putting papers in order a cinch.
checks off if students did the HW
runs to the English department room to get supplies left up there
says hello to students, tells them what will be covered today, and introduces the first activity
recaps what we have learned by calling on a few students to summarize/give examples of what was learned and says “goodbye” to class
gives high-fives to students as they exit and enter the classroom
reminds me if we forgot an activity during class
What about other auxiliares? How do you create a positive learning community? Add your comments below- and be sure to keep adding your activities to our free activities list!